Cuba recently expanded public internet access last year, but its resident are still limited when it comes to restricted use and hourly fees. Soon this may change for the better. Last year, the Cuban government set up 118 internet access points available for surfing for a fee of about $4.50 per hour, down $2 from previous years. Since the average Cuban salary is about $20 per month, it is unrealistic to claim that citizens of this country now have internet access, and the majority of these people will never connect to the internet from home. Cuba has the lowest rate of internet access in the Western world.
Usually only esteemed professionals such as doctors or lawyers have the privilege of accessing the internet from the comfort of home, and many other Cubans have limited access to the web at work. Residents also have the option of going to the local post office to routinely check email. In Cuba, the government has cut everyone a break by allowing the email checking rate to be $1.50 per hour. Internet connections cater heavily to only tourists and hotels. Cuba also monitors internet traffic very carefully, and any person violating the rules will no longer be allowed the extremely limited access the internet at any unreasonable cost.
Many have accused officials in Cuba of using limited internet access for its people to censor free speech, but the Communist government claims that in the past, it has been working with a limited bandwidth from satellite signals. This has given Cuba no choice but to give priorities to university students and large companies. In January of 2014 Cuba began using a high-speed fiber optic cable from Venezuela, which has led to a more positive outlook for internet access in this country.
Google chairman, Eric Schmidt, and other executives from the search engine company recently paid a visit to Cuba to advocate the end of limited internet access in Cuba. Constraints on information for Cubans put restrictions on business, education and a more accountable government. Google execs say, “The government recognizes some of the benefits of increasing access for Cubans, but it has not gone far enough in implementing policy reforms.”
Although the American government and the Google search engine mogul have different perspectives on Cuba, speaking out about limited internet access has enforced the idea of digital diplomacy. The US government has sanctions on allowing Cuba to use the American high-speed fiber optic cables, which makes it difficult for Google to do anything as far as taking action. The only thing that can be done right now is to speak out on the issue. The US government does not want anything to do with helping Cuba obtain greater access to the internet. What the US government says and does are very different. On one end the US government acknowledges the problem of limited internet access in Cuba. On the other end, Washington says there is nothing they can do to help Cuba because of sanctions on trade with Cuba. Ellery Biddle, editor of Global Voices Advocacy Project, says that there are clear steps Google can take to assist Cuban in gaining affordable internet access without government approval for example flying hot spot balloons set up with WiFi over the island. Until Google is able to implement unrestricted internet access for Cuba, residents will still have to pay the $4.50 per hour of use.
By Sarah Gallagher